"This town ain't big enough fer the both uv us."
Actually, there was supposed to be enough room at the multiplex for both a new Western aimed at grown-ups ("The Magnificent Seven") and the first new kiddie cartoon in months ("Storks"). Expectations for both the Denzel Washington-lead remake and the Andy Samberg family film were high, with projections for "Seven" ranging from $38 to $49 million and $26 to $33 million for "Storks."
As it turned out, however, both movies underperformed, though "Seven" did score an estimated $35.0 million, while "Storks" delivered just an estimated $21.8 million.
At least "Seven" performed in the neighborhood of Washington's other recent movies; indeed, most stars today would be thrilled with a $35 million debut. But how did it manage to crowd "Storks" -- a movie with seemingly no audience overlap -- out of the marketplace? Here are some of the reasons "Seven" won the showdown, as well as reasons why it still wasn't as quick on the draw as pundits predicted.
1. The Stars
Washington remains -- remarkably, at age 61 -- about the most reliable box office draw in the business. His numbers aren't huge, but they're healthy. Since 2000, he's appeared in 19 movies, 16 of which have opened above $20 million. (Two of the three that didn't -- "Antwone Fisher" and "The Great Debaters" -- were movies that opened in limited releases, and they were films that Washington directed but performed in only a supporting role.)
His last movie, 2014's "The Equalizer," debuted just above $34 million, so his "Seven" opening is actually slightly better than usual. In fact, it's his best since "Safe House" premiered with $40.2 million in 2012.
"Seven" features an ensemble cast of fine actors, but none of them is in Washington's league, not even Chris Pratt. Yes, Pratt starred in three of the biggest movies of the last couple years -- "The LEGO Movie," "Guardians of the Galaxy," and "Jurassic World" -- but they're the kind of high-concept movies that arguably would have done well no matter who starred in them.
As for "Storks," star Andy Samberg has done well as a supporting voice player in the "Hotel Transylvania" cartoon features, but that doesn't mean he has any kind of a box office following, since the kids who watch those movies may not recognize him by name or face.
2. The FilmmakersAntoine Fuqua (pictured, right) isn't a household name, but he's delivered several solid and smart action movies, including recent hits like "The Equalizer." "Seven" marks his third movie with Washington; the first was "Training Day," the hit crime drama that won Washington his second Oscar. So the two men work well together, especially when Washington's in badass mode.
"Storks" co-director Nick Stoller has had some successes with bro-comedies aimed at young men, including "Get Him to the Greek" and "Neighbors." But he's never directed a family film or a cartoon (he co-directed "Storks" with former Pixar animator Doug Sweetland, who's making his feature directing debut). As a writer, however, Stoller's been a lot more hit-and-miss, having contributed to the screenplays of such commercial disappointments as "Turbo," "Muppets Most Wanted," "Sex Tape," and "Zoolander 2." He's the sole credited writer on "Storks." Critics often appreciate a filmmaker who stretches and explores territory outside of his or her wheelhouse, but the box office tends to be less forgiving of risk.
3. The Genres
Westerns simply don't do well among younger audiences, with rare exceptions like "Django Unchained." Then again, Washington's appeal is primarily toward older viewers, the kind who still read reviews, and "Seven" earned an okay 63 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. (Word-of-mouth among paying customers was even better, judging by the A- grade from CinemaScore.) There's also the nostalgia factor to draw older viewers, not just for those who remember the Westerns of their youth, but for those who remember the original 1960 version of "Seven," one of the greatest and most beloved Westerns of all time.
Not that the new "Seven" was entirely without youth appeal. Unlike many of Washington's movies, it's rated PG-13 instead of R. Plus, the film's African-American director has made a point of giving the film a multicultural cast worthy of a "Fast and Furious" movie.
The predictions for "Storks" were so high, probably because talking-animal family movies have done very well this year, from "Zootopia" to "Finding Dory" and "The Secret Life of Pets." Still, it's hard to sell an original story without familiar characters to family audiences unless you're Disney/Pixar or Illumination, the animation house behind "Pets" and the "Minions" movies. Witness the recent difficulty that LAIKA had with "Kubo and the Two Strings," despite rave reviews. And not even Disney could drum up much interest in its remake of live-action/animation blend "Pete's Dragon."
4. The Competition
Nonetheless, "Kubo" remains in the top 10 this weekend. It's also still playing on more than 1,200 screens, as are "Dragon" and "Wild Life." Even "Pets" and "Dory" are still selling tickets after more than three months. So "Storks" is entering a more crowded marketplace than it may have bargained for.
For that matter, so is "Seven." Fall is, after all, the movie season for grown-ups. Washington's chief rival here is his old "Philadelphia" co-star, Tom Hanks, whose "Sully" actually added 430 theaters in its third weekend, upstaging "Seven" by 281 screens. As a result, it came in third with an estimated $13.8 million, for a total of a healthy $92.4 million so far. And in addition to adult dramas like "Sully," "Snowden," and "Hell or High Water," "Seven" also had to compete for African-American viewers against "When the Bough Breaks." Washington beat them all, as expected, but he had his hands full.
5. September Release Date
September has simply been dismal at the box office. Of the five lowest-grossing weekends at the box office throughout 2016, four of them are from the current month. The worst was last weekend, with just $89.8 million in total sales. This weekend has been the best weekend since the end of August, and it still pulled in just $103.9 million.
It's worth noting that "Storks" earned exactly the same scores as "Seven" among critics at Rotten Tomatoes and ticketbuyers at CinemaScore. You'd think such positive buzz for the cartoon would have made a difference.
But for word-of-mouth to pay off, you have to get customers to show up in the first place, and this month, it seems most everybody has something better to do than go see movies.
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